BEIJING – At 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 7, a promoter in a rural village on the outskirts of Suqian, in China’s Jiangsu Province, phoned another villager to let him know his JD.com package had arrived. The order, placed just before midnight on the night before, was delivered via one of JD’s own-developed Y3 multi-rotor drones.
With more than 50 drones already deployed across multiple launch zones in non-urban regions in China, JD.com customers residing in rural villages are rapidly gaining access to a world of retail options previously unavailable. During a media briefing that ran parallel to the Suqian delivery, Air Cargo World was on hand when JD unveiled the design characteristics of its heavy-load, fixed-wing drone.
Unlike the battery powered Y3 that facilitates deliveries to hard-to-access rural areas, JD plans to put larger, gas-powered, fixed-wing drones in operation on routes between cities and provinces, said Dapeng Li, principal scientist at JD-X, the in-house research lab that oversees drone development for JD. The e-commerce giant has been working with Northwestern Polytechnical University and local authorities in Shaanxi Province to develop – and eventually manufacture and test, a – industrial drones with maximum payloads that surpass 1 tonne.
Noting that drones face regulatory obstacles at both the provincial and national levels, Li said that government authorities have thus far been “supportive of drones and logistics innovation.”
Regulatory issues aside, JD’s fixed-wing drone operations are expected to utilize existing and purpose-built airport infrastructure. One such partner is the China West Airport Group, which owns and operates a series of airports in western and central China and has agreed to make some of its airport infrastructure drone-ready.
On the operational side, JD recently entered a strategic partnership with Guangdong Longhao Aviation Group, to develop logistics platforms that will ultimately manage JD’s drone network. The partnership covers a series of drone functions, including drone dispatch, airspace control, flight route planning and other supervisory functions. The first site, near Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, is expected to be online by 2020.
JD has not yet released a rendering of its large cargo drone, but for now, here is a video of the Y3: